Too Many Nursing Homes Use Antipsychotics as “Chemical Restraints”

According to a recent Consumer Reports study, prescription medication use in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past 20 years—from 2.4 billion prescriptions filled in 1997 to almost 4.5 billion in 2016. Additionally, adults over the age of 65 account for one-third of all medications prescribed, even though the age group only represents 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Unfortunately, this high rate of use by the elderly can be exacerbated by some care providers who resort to misuse and abuse. In fact, the Long Term Care Community Coalition (LTCCC)—a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of care for people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities—has conducted studies in recent years that show a disturbing trend of antipsychotic abuse in nursing homes across the U.S.

While used to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in elderly patients, antipsychotics are rarely approved for such—instead; many were developed to specifically combat maladies such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. A recent study by Human Rights Watch has found that approximately 179,000 nursing home residents are given such drugs without a corresponding diagnosis. Researcher Hannah Flamm offers this insight as to why; “All too often, staff justify using antipsychotic drugs on people with dementia because they interpret urgent expressions of pain or distress as disruptive behavior that needs to be suppressed.” In this way, the medications are being used as chemical restraints. “You don’t come down with [schizophrenia] in your 90s,” says Richard Mollot, executive director of LTCCC. “This is something we were always afraid of, that people would start getting diagnoses for the first time in their 80s or 90s of schizophrenia so they could be given the drugs with relative impunity.”

Beyond the ethical issue of being medicated for a condition one does not have, the FDA points out via their “black box” warnings that antipsychotics bring additional risks of which most patients and even administering staff aren’t aware—including the potential of death. Yet, some who work in such facilities are not deterred; one director of a nursing home even told Human Rights Watch during their investigation that antipsychotics are “a go-to thing.”

Currently, more than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and 1 out of every 3 individuals over the age of 65 is affected by some form of dementia at their time of passing. Even more troubling, the aging status of America’s second largest generation—the baby boomers—could see such numbers sky rocket in coming years.

If you or a family member is being administered such drugs while in the care of a nursing facility without a previous history of being prescribed antipsychotics, please contact us for a free and confidential legal consultation.